When the Province of Upper Canada, later Ontario, was established by the Constitutional Act of 1791, it was assumed that the Church of England [CofE], also known as the Anglican Church, would have a special place in the new colony, as it did in Britain.
The British Government was careful not to repeat the mistakes that had led to the American Revolution, and decided not to impose a system of tithes to support the CofE as existed elsewhere in the Empire. Tithes were paid by all, regardless of their denomination, to support the local Anglican minister and congregation. This was resented by non-Anglicans. For example, in Ireland, which was then more than 97% Catholic, tithes were paid by everyone, leading to conflict and grievances expressed, at times, in violence.
Therefore, the Constitutional Act contained an alternative to tithes in support of the CofE. One out of every seven lots surveyed in every township in Upper Canada would be reserved for the benefit of the Cof E: that amounted to more than 40 lots in every 300 in the average township, spread out across the concessions. In addition, another seventh was reserved for the Crown, to provide an alternate source of revenue in lieu of taxes – another major element in the American revolt.
The Clergy Reserves, as they were called, were to be leased to settlers, and the regular income derived would go to support the Anglican clergy. Unfortunately, the Clergy Reserves became a source of genuine aggravation for everyone. Because land was granted free of cost to Loyalists for decades after 1791, there was little interest on the part of settlers to pay for rented land, when so much was available for nothing. Furthermore, as each settler was responsible for clearing the road in front of their lot, the unsettled Clergy Reserve lots meant that roads were difficult to maintain in good, or even open, condition, as there was no-one to clear the sections in front of the Reserved lots.
Throughout the period from 1791 to 1836, attempts were made to promote the sale of these unproductive barriers to settlement, without much success. An Act was passed in Britain in 1827 authorising the sale of a certain number of lots per year, and that helped, but not much. The one major benefit of the Act, however, was enjoyed by later historians.
As part of the process by which the Clergy Reserve lots were to be sold, an inquiry was launched to examine and report on the state of the lots in each Township. These records provide us with detailed descriptions of the land, soil, condition, etc., of the Clergy Reserves in 1828-29.
The Reserves became a political issue from early on in Upper Canada, with arguments being made in the Assembly and in public meetings, that the revenue from the reserves should not be to the sole benefit of the Anglican Church. Other Christian groups objected and believed they, too, should have a share in the bounty. While the Government was prepared to consider the claims of the Presbyterian Church, which was, after all, the Established Church in Scotland, they were far less open to considering the claims of the Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, etc., in Upper Canada.
This was, at least in part, because of the founding ideology behind Upper Canada. The Imperial Government, and the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, intended the Province to be built on the foundation of a land-owning aristocracy, as in Britain, and the CofE was an essential plank in that structure. Baptists and Methodists, especially, were seen as not respectable, closer to democratic principles than aristocratic – too American. The very idea that they should share in the alternative to tithes was completely unacceptable. But the pressure was great, and something had to be done about the Clergy Reserves.
But how to eliminate them while maintaining support for the Cof E? In 1836, one Governor of Upper Canada, Sir John Colborne, made an ex- ecutive decision immediately before leaving the province at the end of his tenure, thus escaping any unpleasant repercussions from his actions. He granted certain Clergy Reserves in Townships to the CofE at no charge, giving them patents for the land so they could be sold and the proceeds go directly to the parish in that township.
So it was that St. James Anglican Church in Kemptville was “ endowed”, as the legal terms has it, with 450 acres free of charge. These were lots 15 and 16 in Concession 1, and lot 16 in concession 6 of Oxford-on-Rideau, granted to Henry Patton, Minister in Kemptville. St. James became one of the 44 Endowed Rectories and provided with an investment on which to depend in the future. The Clergy Reserves continued to be a political issue for decades after that, and became just one of the grievances that led to the Rebellions in 1837: the very reason for their existence was to prevent such grievances leading to rebellion. So much for aristocracy.